Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Challenge of Change and New Ideas

Change and new ideas often result in disruption. Typically when there's a team approach and good process that goes along with that innovation, there is less disruption.

Today as I thought back to times of utter frustration and challenge at school, those were times when change and new ideas were occurring. At one time, it was the beginning of a new school configuration. Another time included embedding new technology and new projects. Each time there was disruption that resulted in stress and frustration.

I researched this a bit today and came across this article from Harvard Business School which was helpful. I found the article helpful because it provides one lens for inviting and supporting innovation--a lens that could be altered to fit school culture.

Generally I like to jump into new ideas, and not unlike the result of a child's cannon ball into a pool that tends to create a big splash which similar to relaxed sunbathers along the pool's edge is generally not welcome by people in organizations who are comfortable with current routines, organization, and structure. Along with that splash there generally comes resistance and some backlash too. It's uncomfortable, so why let it happen?

I generally jump into new ideas because my research, experience, and intuition tell me that the idea has merit and will better the work I'm able to do with and for the students I teach. I also know that it's impossible to truly understand what an idea will bring unless I try it out--testing the idea informs me quickly about the idea's merits and need for revision and development. And when faced with cultures that may not be enthusiastic about innovation or new ideas, there's a need to go it alone or with a few others to make a difference. While forging ahead with only a few others with new ideas is not always welcome, the desire to do that comes from the promise the new idea holds for student learning, engagement, and growth. If a new idea better teaches and engages students in worthy learning efforts, that's going to motivate innovative and dedicated educators to try it out.

I'm wondering, however, if it might be a good idea to consider the result of a new idea's impact on the greater teaching/learning environment prior to trying out the new idea, and then letting that reflection inform how you will organize the new idea. For example when students began podcasting several years ago, there were many elements to the project I had not thought about, elements that taxed the system in ways that created disruption. While the project was deep, meaningful, standards-based, and effective, it was also uncomfortable for some who were involved in it. I had not considered that aspect of the project, and the disruption it would cause. What would have been a better approach?

I think that a better approach would be for systems to consider innovation in holistic, inclusive ways. Rather than solely a top-down or bottom-up approach, innovation should be seen as a collaborative endeavor that mixed administrative and educator teams consider at the start of each year with questions such as these:
  • What do we see as our strengths and successes in our educational program?
  • What do we see as our weaknesses or needs in the educational program?
  • What ideas do we have for change and innovation? What is the rationale for those ideas?
  • As a team what do we want to change and develop this year and why?
  • What is our success criteria for the innovations we're going to try out, and what is our path to achieving that success criteria?
  • What are individual's roles in this innovation?
  • Who will the innovation impact, and how can we engage them in the process in positive ways?
  • How might we mitigate the discomfort this innovation might bring to our school, staff, students, and families? 
  • What promise does this innovation hold and how can we relay that potential to all involved?
In organizations that embrace an inclusive and collaborative attitude and process towards worthy, timely innovation, development, and growth, there is great potential for positive and even harmonious change and innovation. 

As I think back to the challenging disruption related to new ideas and innovation I've encountered in the past, I believe that's been the result of little systemwide support for those innovations or for inclusive innovation in general as well as my own "cannon ball" style of making change. To employ a more collaborative open, yet systematic, approach to innovation and change may foster greater teamwork while still respecting individual ideas and drive for betterment.